'We pay your salaries': Ontario college students demand tuition refund should strike occur

Ontario students are turning up the heat on negotiations between the province's 24 public colleges and the union representing their faculty. Over 16,000 students, and counting, have signed a petition asking for their money back in the wake of a strike.

A strike deadline is set for 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 16 if an agreement is not met

Two Humber college students, Greg Kung and Amir Allana, launched a petition highlighting the impact of a looming college strike on students. (CBC)

Ontario students are turning up the heat on negotiations between the province's 24 public colleges and the union representing their faculty. 

Over 16,000 students have signed an online petition — with the hashtag #wepaytolearn — asking for their money back in the wake of a strike. 

"We want to send a clear message to both college administrations and unionized faculty: We pay your salaries. It is our tuition money that you are fighting over. Get back to the bargaining table, compromise and figure it out. Or we want our money back," one of the authors of the petition, Amir Allana, told CBC Toronto.

#wepaytolearn is a campaign demanding daily student tuition refund for every day that a strike takes place. (CBC)

"We are not taking a position. Both sides have a right to bargain and both sides have a right to this conversation. We are just a third stakeholder that has not been heard throughout this process," the Humber College paramedic student said in an interview.

College faculty and staff are ready to walk off the job Oct. 16 at 12:01 a.m. if an agreement is not met. 

Should that occur, the petition asks for daily reimbursement.

"At an average tuition of $5,000 for two 13-week semesters, we are paying nearly $40/day to be in school. Full-time students must be reimbursed $30/day and part-time students must be reimbursed $20/day should a strike occur," the petition demands. 

Strike deadline set for Monday at 12:01 a.m.

"As it stands, college administrations have nothing to lose. Students pay the same tuition regardless of how much time and learning we lose if a strike occurs," the petition states, pointing out that because there is no competition they can take their business to.

But Allana says its not just about the monetary loss that students are facing. 

"Many colleges are practical diplomas or degrees meant to streamline you into the workforce. But those programs require testing that is outside the college system — provincial certifications, employers themselves do hiring tests and none of that is going to get delayed because of the strike," he said.

"We will be in a position where we will be tested on materials by external agencies that we have not learned in class." 

OPSEU is the union that represents employees of Ontario colleges. (OPSEU)

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents 12,000 employes in the college system, rejected the College Employer Council's last offer on Friday. 

The council's website says that new benefits in that offer included a 7.75 per cent salary increase [over four years] and improved conversion of contract faculty to full-time positions.

But OPSEU refutes many of those claims on their website, saying the offer will expand the number of contract faculty, reduce the number of full-time positions and make contract positions even more precarious.

Both parties will continue negotiations at the Sheraton Hotel throughout the weekend.

Greg Kung, co-author of the trending petition says the idea to voice students' opinions on the looming strike stemmed from his and his friends' frustrations over having been left out of the conversation. 

"We just want to have students' voice heard and the idea of a refund will remind people that there is a third stakeholder here that will be very negatively affected by a work stoppage," the Humber college student said.